Lean & Sustainable Choices: It’s All About Context

Lean & Sustainable Choices: It’s All About Context

dumpster-1Earlier this week, I came across a post on The Converting Curmudgeon which resonated with me in a lot of ways. In his post, author Mark Spaulding offers a short review of the “Global Language for Packaging and Sustainability” report released by the Consumer Goods Forum.

To sum up what’s already been said, this report sheds light on the truth that while certain pressures have sent many manufacturers full steam into packaging reduction, failing to consider all the side-effects can be more harm than good.

Namely, under-packaging can be as much a detriment to your bottom line as over-packaging may make you seem a pariah. Mark puts it best towards the end

Along with educating suppliers, customers, consumers and your employees on your company’s eco efforts, don’t neglect telling them about all the positives that packaging brings. Reduction in food waste; long-term product protection; availability of items from around the world, to name a few.

I think this reveals two lessons all of us could apply on a global scale – whether we process food, package goods, convert materials, consult or manufacture:

  1. Choose based on the best outcome for all: Don’t just do it for the sake of saying you did it.  Think about product loss, end-user satisfaction.  Consider your market, your supply chain.  Consider everything.  And once you’ve made that decision, remember to focus on the benefits of that decision from all angles, too.
  2. Take every new decision in context: While something may work great for one process, it may not be the best for another.  To take packaging as an example: packaging for bulk perishable foods marketed to wholesalers or restaurants will have different considerations than, say, a non-perishable  product packaged for individual consumers.

The concept of taking decisions in context and doing it for the best overall value stretches much further than just lean packaging.

Whether you’re considering eco-friendly upgrades to your facility, deciding where to source your product, or redeveloping your packaging strategy;  “lean” and “sustainable” only have meaning when you can prove the value of the end result.

In some ways, the motivation behind this whole-hog dive into the world of “lean” parallels what we’ve watched happen with US manufacturing overall – an industry as a whole, for whatever reason, jumps to choose what *seems* best to the end user & improve the bottom line. With manufacturing, it was cheap sourcing to provide the lowest end price; with packaging, it’s “using as little as possible” to appear less wasteful in the end product.

But, where is the real gain when those choices lead to poor quality, higher product loss, and more knots in the supply chain as damage and dissatisfaction artificially increase demand?